It’s true. We need oil.

In the short-term our entire infrastructure is dependent on oil. Since it is used to make gasoline, diesel, kerosene, natural gas, propane, plastic, heating oil, and industrial fuel, it is obvious that we can’t simply stop using it tomorrow. This is a fact and to ignore it and think otherwise is both ignorant and futile.

However, here is another fact. Oil is finite. Someday we will run out, plain and simple. The length of time before that happens may be disputed, but nonetheless, we will run out one day. And there’s no making more of it. It took hundreds of millions of years to make the batch we’re blowing through. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

That being said, assuming an extended existence of humankind (a significant assumption, mind you) and therefore its need for energy, one must logically conclude that we will need another source of energy at some point. Personally, I would argue that we need it quickly, now, while we still have oil to burn in the interim. We should be using our quick and easy fossil fuels not for individual and corporate profit but for collective betterment and for producing better ways to harness infinite and renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric.

Here’s another fact: the world’s need for energy is growing. With the population over 7 billion people, and more and more of those people (and their economies) becoming dependent on oil, it isn’t simply a matter of sustaining our oil production to satiate our current thirst. Rather, we must continue to increase production in order to keep up with the growing demand.Either that or the price of oil is going to climb and climb and climb. And if you thought $4/gallon was bad, just you wait.

Another fact: oil is getting more and more difficult to gather. Sure, there’s still lots of it out there; and sure, we’re getting better at predicting where it is; and sure, we can even find it. But more and more of those places are getting further and further from our grasp. Finding it is just the first step because when we find it deep in the Earth, or at the bottom of the ocean, or mixed in with sand or shale we have to go through a lot of trouble to get it. That costs money, which then drives up the price of oil in addition to demand.

And here’s yet another fact: oil is dirty. Oil is messy. And removing it from places has a significant negative effect on otherspecies and the environment, an effect that dramatically increases with the difficulty of collecting and refining the oil. Oil junkies and blind conservatives will pooh-pooh this, of course, and claim it is a small price to pay. But ask them if they want it done in their backyard, or in their neighborhood park, or near their drinking water supply and watch them squirm.

Fact #5: We (the US taxpayer) subsidize oil exploration with tax breaks for oil companies. We also bear the brunt of the environmental costs associated with it. And we pay a significant tax (avg. of $.48/gal) at the pump for its product.

So we pay oil companies to find oil; our land, air, and water are damaged, then we pay for the oil products, and then we pay a tax on the oil they find.

Here’s one more fact that I need to establish before I offer my argument: oil companies are and have been making enormous profits for some time. Which is NOT to say that they don’t deserve them. Or should be taxed out of them. Or are evil. It’s just a fact.

Now we’ve established the following:

  1. We need oil in the short-term.
  2. Oil is a finite resource.
  3. The world’s need for energy (and for now, oil) is growing rapidly.
  4. Oil production results in transgressions against the environment and biodiversity.
  5. We pay subsidies to companies to find oil.
  6. Oil companies continue to make an enormous amount of money.

From these we can make some assumptions:

  • We can assume that we’ll continue to use oil.
  • We can assume that oil companies will continue to make profits.
  • And we can assume that we’ll should be looking for other sources of energy.

Which leads me (finally) to my argument: who better to provide our energy solutions than the most innovative, successful, and profitable energy companies out there, big oil?

Let’s face it, these are good companies. Really good ones! We’re talking about strong, profitable organizations packed with incredibly smart people. When they put their minds to something, they always deliver. Oil’s deep in the ground? We’ll design a huge drill and a way to pump it out. Running out of land oil? We’ll get it out of the ocean floor. Ocean wells getting too deep? We’ll squeeze it out of sand and rocks. Can’t find oil as easily? We’ll develop the science to predict where it is. Meanwhile we’ll get more and more efficient at collecting it, refining it, transporting it, and selling it. Oh, and did we mention we’ll do it all while increasing our profitability?

Compared to the recent flop of three inexperienced solar panel companies, one with a hefty wad of US government loan guarantees on its hip, I’ll take the tried and true business model of big oil any day. Though austerity measures in Europe played a significant role in the demise of these wannabe eco-innovators, big oil would never have gone belly up from the sudden and drastic change in demand. Profitability may have suffered, but they’d surely still be going strong. After all, if Deepwater Horizon didn’t sink BP (in fact, they’re still raking it in), nothing will.

What better model is there for energy innovation than big oil? They’ve proven they can do it. Now we just have to convince them to shift their innovation off of oil and onto renewable sources of energy.

So here’s my solution. Don’t end the subsidies for oil companies. Change them. Don’t reduce our investment in their proven innovation; in fact, let’s increase it! Let’s harness all that innovation, creativity, and proven efficiency and direct it toward the next stage.

Rather than paying them $20 billion for finding new ways to find, collect, and produce oil, let’s instead pay them to develop new technologies and methods that don’t rely on fossil fuels and their subsequent environmental detriments.

In fact, let’s even tie their corporate tax rate to the percentage of their profits spent on renewable energy research and development. The more they invest in renewable energy, the less we charge them in taxes.

That’s giving them a lot, to be sure. But when compared with the collective environmental impact of oil exploration, production, and refining, not to mention the cost and economic impact of incompetence and malfeasance-inspired disasters like the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, it is a small investment.

The list of oil spills from just the last two years is ponderous and reason enough to push us off of oil in a hurry. The costs of an oil spill are incredibly complex and far-reaching as shown in this study which is now 12 years out of date. They estimate a major spill costing roughly $25,000 per tonne spilled (that’s in 1999 dollars). I’d rather spend that money up front, proactively, creating good jobs, and sparing the environment instead of spending it reactively and on a disaster whose damage will already have been done and the impacts so complex and enduring we may never be able to comprehend them.

The biggest obstacle to alternative energy innovation is big oil. Their lobbying power will continue to dictate our energy policy, invariably steering it towards “Drill, baby, drill” for the foreseeable future. All they want is profit, so let’s buy them off. Let’s pay these proven companies to do what they do best, come up with new ways to supply energy. But let’s make it an energy that is clean, sustainable, renewable, and available to all.

They are already masters of innovation. Let’s make them an offer they can’t refuse and get them to do it our way. It’s a win-win.